Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lazar Berman – Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1

   The Russian piano school is probably the most comprehensive phenomenon in the history of international piano achievements. Dozens of best virtuosi and  hundreds of great personalities and devoted teachers, thousands of gifted students, proven and effective methods of teaching, strong artistic and intellectual tradition, conducive social environment and audience able to appreciate good performances, all elements worked together for building one school comprising many generations of artists. Its history dates back to John Field teaching activity in Russia from 1802 to 1829 and the newest chapter is written by successful activity of young pianists from Russia probably on every international piano competition. Without fail one of the best in elite of Russian pianists was Lazar Berman – Лазарь Наумович Берман (1930-2005), the great master of romantic piano music one of best interpreters of most complex and difficult piano works.
   In 1955 Emil Gilels called Berman “the phenomenon of music world” but even opinion of great pianist was not able to help Berman in post war Soviet Union. Despite 5th prize in Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1956 (1st won Vladimir Ashkenazy), concerts in London and recordings for Saga in 1958, some concerts and radio transmissions in late 50’s and 60’s, Lazar Berman was barely unknown in West European countries. In state where every decision has to have political acceptance, he was assigned as an artist of internal cultural life. State Concert Agency (Gosconcert) for years was ignoring invitations and concerts propositions coming from the other side of iron curtain. Changes were always a question of time and in empires time goes slower than anywhere else. Living in a small two-room apartment in Moscow with grand piano occupying entire room, Lazar Naumovich has devoted himself entirely to music.

Lazar Berman and Herbert von Karajan (1976)

   In mid-seventies after he made his great Italian debut in 1971 and widely acclaimed American debut with complete set of Ferenc Liszt’s Transcendental Études, Lazar Berman became an instant star. Series of concert tours all over the world, perfect recordings characterize these years as his best times. He was in his forties, in perfect artistic condition, playing with brilliant and fully controlled technique and with lots of interpretative ideas. Herbert von Karajan after listening to Berman’s Transcendental Études album decided to record with Russian artist and to promote him with Deutsche Grammophon contract. In such moment he recorded one of most spectacular romantic concerto with one of the best orchestras in the world and with conductor of great esteem and rich personality. Lazar Berman playing Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor with Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Herbert von Karajan – the recording was announced as the first Berman’s album with orchestra, a kind of stronger debut, but in 1976 this was a Mount Everest of musical career for any artist.
   Record was produced by Deutsche Grammophon and like any other records of Russian artists has been almost immediately re-published by Soviet label Melodya. The rendition is perfectly balanced between heroic nobleness and deep sensitivity. Piano plays with symphonic sound and perfect articulation. Berman was able to create a huge range of expression between powerful, strong chords and melodious cantilena, sometimes ethereal legato. His tremendous technical capabilities helped him build lively, very emotional and undoubtedly serious, in some parts clearly metaphysical interpretation. Orchestra had played with more restraint, sometimes even giving more space for pianist, who filled this extra territory with very personal, deep but still intellectual performance. The way Lazar Berman recorded this concerto, the way he reads this work is an example of profound musical sensuality and understanding of this great composition.

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